The Green Book Wine Club Train Trip is a unique play that honors family, friends, ancestry and the lives Black American women have built for themselves both in the 1940s and 2017. It is a sharp work full of heart, and Michelle Tyrene Johnson has built a world around five incandescent women who captivated the audience from the very beginning and didn’t let up until the end.
We enter the world through the eyes of librarian Marie (Khrystal Coppage) who is on the Wine Club Train Trip with her friends Alicia (Lanette King), Saige (Jabrelle Herbin), Toni (Karis Harrington), and Lynn (Cecilia Evelyn Belser-Patton). Marie is not as engaged in the full of the trip, as she is researching for her grandmother’s 80th birthday party, most of which center on the book she’s carried with her the entire trip, the Negro Motorist Green Book, a book used by Black Americans in the 1940s and 1950s as type of safety travel guide.
On the train trip, Marie steps off the train for a break, holding the Green Book, and finds herself transported back in time to the 1940s, to one of the very locations mentioned in the book. The actresses that have played the friends of Marie now re-enter as Black women from the 1940s. Bertha (Cecilia Evelyn Belser-Patton) meets a lost and confused Marie at the train station, introducing her to the rest of the women from 1940 that live at the boarding house with her: Lucy (Jabrelle Herbin), Henrietta (Karis Harrington), and Cotton Blue (Lanette King).
An adventure plays out in the 1940s timeline while Marie works to get back to 2017, stopping back for one last ‘ironing out’ of the timeline. Marie struggles with the feelings of being in the 1940s, with how things are so difficult, but how not everything is perfect in 2017. Throughout the entire play, there is not a single wasted opportunity with a contemporary Black woman talking to another Black woman from the 1940s. As Marie talks about ‘hanging out’ with a guy friend with Henrietta, they discuss feminism, to which Marie struggles to put a definition. In response to Marie’s feeble attempt to explain, Henrietta replies ‘That sounds like some white woman shit that don’t really mean nothing for none of us in this house.’
The (predominately Black*) audience verbally responded at many points at the play, and a collective gasp happened when Marie lamented how she was stuck in Jim Crow America, and she longed to go back home to 2017, where ‘I can live where I want, work where I want, go to school where I want, marry who I want. I can walk in the front door of any place I want to go, get seated at any table, and they have to legally serve me.’ At the end of the play, in discussing her opportunities, that Marie could go back and have her education, have her life that she couldn’t have in the 1940s, but, as Marie says ‘You know what’s sad? A lot of folks don’t seem to think I’m supposed to have it in my time either.’
This play is triumphant in how it does so much in such a short amount of time, without being allegorical or superficial. With time travel, sometimes the past (or future) we skip to can feel fake, but Michelle Tyrene Johnson has found a creative way to ground us to the time leaps and invest us in their stories. This is a beautiful work, and everyone should take the trip to see it.
*Please don’t misunderstand why I put this here. I point out the audience demographic mostly for the white reader, as we naturally imagine we are surrounded by white people unless told otherwise, and a white audience responding this way to a Jim Crow speech is very different than a Black audience. I want the blog reader (if there are any) to understand the demographic of this performance is not how the (white) reader may imagine it.
Embedded photo credit:
The Negro Motorist Green Book 1949 – Kansas City Page- From the Collection of Henry Ford: http://www.autolife.umd.umich.edu/Race/R_Casestudy/87_135_1736_GreenBk.pdf
Author’s note: The author does her best to give credit to both actors and technical talent, and #tags everyone listed in the program even if not named in the written play response. If you feel anyone contributed to the production that was not named or tagged, or any corrections, please contact the author via the original source.
All rights reserved – Jessie Salsbury Pronouns: she/her/hers